River Region high schoolers turn out to explore paths to local industry

Published 12:15 am Saturday, April 21, 2018

RESERVE — Hosted by River Parishes Community College Reserve campus Wednesday evening, the fourth annual Career Link industry fair drew triple the crowd Campus Dean Penelope Shumaker expected.

A lackluster turnout for last month’s CMT Empowering Education concert and career fair raised concerns that St. John the Baptist Parish students weren’t taking advantage of educational and training opportunities vital to industry careers.

Robin and Regina Pearce, left, were two of almost 400 people who visited River Parishes Community College Reserve campus Wednesday evening for the fourth annual Career Link industry fair, which was sponsored by Shell.

Shumaker and staff took a proactive approach to increase participation, seeking out support from the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board and the River Region Chamber of Commerce to advertise Career Link.

About 100 people attended the event in past years, according to Shumaker. This year, 395 participated, including nearly 100 prospective students from St. John, St. James and St. Charles parishes accompanied by parents and siblings.

“I think we are putting a lot more emphasis on getting the word out,” Shumaker said. “We had a lot of community support. When all entities come together, it shows it really works.”

Sponsored by Shell, Career Link 2018 brought parents, students and industry professionals together to discuss workforce opportunities with college representatives.

Marathon, Mosaic, Valero, Louisiana Federal Credit Union, OxyChem and River Parish Workforce Development were also present to answer community questions.

Of the students in attendance, about half were from private and public schools in St. John Parish, Shumaker said. Every student who signed in was automatically entered into a drawing for four $1,000 scholarships.

East St. John High School sent out text notifications regarding Career Link, according to senior Lyrical Bullock, who attended to explore career paths. Bullock expressed interest in medical field opportunities.

Drawn to a process technology career path, Riverside Academy senior Brian Simmons and St. James High School sophomore Ross Ledet spent time talking to representatives from Shell.

Shumaker said sending invitations to sophomores, in addition to upperclassmen this year, made a big difference in attendance.

David Esquibel, workforce development manager for Shell, said two-year degrees and certifications coupled with industry experience are important because they help develop unexperienced talents with skills needed in a safety-oriented industry. Esquibel said Shell sponsors Career Link because it attracts talent into the two-year technical STEM career track, which offers training applicable in a variety of industries.

“It’s not just a degree that fits the petrochemical and refining industry,” Esquibel said. “It’s a degree that fits pharmaceutical, paper and pulp, water treatment, nuclear power and more.”

Shell hopes to attract more women to the industry through Unlock Your Destiny, the 10th annual career and education forum for women to be held Thursday at the Edward A. Dufresne Community Center in Luling.

Planning for next year’s Career Link is already in the works, according to Shumaker. She said the door is open to host additional career fairs at local high schools.

“We’re flexible, and we’re able to throw something together for school or church groups relatively easily,” Shumaker said. “It’s an open invitation. If we keep the momentum going and keep coming together, it would make a huge difference.”